Previously on “Unorthodox Snow”:
Read the next chapter below and tune in next Tuesday for another episode.
A light drizzle was their constant companion on their way through Ord. Finding their way on the back roads meant that their pace wasn’t as fast as Teagan would have liked. Time was of the essence and with each passing hour their chances of getting to the facility in time were diminishing.
It had taken them a bit to find something for the Ogrun to ride. In the end, they acquired a particularly sturdy horse from a local brewery. The animal wasn’t too happy, but it let Rongar ride it at least. The owner hadn’t been happy either, but a visit from the quartermaster had sorted that out pretty quickly.
“Are you sure this is the best and fastest way to approach the facility, lieutenant?” di Barra asked.
Teagan rolled her eyes. This was the umpteenth time the stormsmith had asked that question since they had entered Ord a little over a day ago. He had phrased it differently each time, but it was quite apparent, that he thought the mission would be better with him leading it instead of the ranger lieutenant.
“Yes, Mr. di Barra, it is” she said with more patience than she felt.
“Just checking” came the reply from the stormsmith. He was riding behind her and Higgins at the front of their little column. The two long gunners were coming up next, with Shaw and Rongar bringing up the rear.
The ogrun had insisted on bringing a lot of gear, which meant his horse didn’t only have to carry him, but an assortment of weapons, explosives and his huge shield as well. That shield looked like it had been the front door of a castle in a previous life and nobody besides the trencher could lift it.
“How long do you reckon?” Bailey quietly asked her second in command. “Another day?”
“Yes, maybe a little more, depending on traffic” Higgins answered. “As we are getting deeper into Ord, we are bound to meet someone. Lets just hope they are friendly. If not, things might get ugly fast.”
Teagan sighed. The last thing she wanted was provoking an incident with a friendly nation.
If she could control the recalcitrant stormsmith. They all had dressed casually and left their uniforms at home, so they were harder to identify as Cygnarans, if at all. It had been a bit of a discussion to get di Barra to wear a hat and pack away his storm rod, as that would have made him instantly recognizable to anyone within a mile.
“What is the plan once we get there, boss?” Higgins now asked. “We can’t just storm the place, can we?”
“We do what we do best – reconnaissance” Bailey answered. “Put the long gunners somewhere in the woods as backup and then go have a look.”
“What about him?” Higgins nodded towards the stormsmith.
“We won’t be able to keep him away, lets hope he sees that we know what we are doing and keeps in line. I am more concerned about Rongar to be honest.”
“We should have left them both in Bainsmarket.” Anybody else asking that question would have gotten a stern talking to, but Higgins got away with more stuff than anybody else.
“I have a feeling we will need Rongars kind of crazy before all this is over” Teagan answered. “As for di Barra, there wasn’t much we could do and he might come in useful as well.”
Another few hours of riding brought them even deeper into Ord. No towns or villages were nearby, which the rangers preferred. It was getting darker as the afternoon slowly turned into dusk and then evening.
“Lets stop here and make camp” Bailey said. “We can’t risk lighting anything, and I don’t want to keep riding in the dark.”
“You are rangers, lieutenant, isn’t that kind of what you do? Find a way, even in the dark?” Di Barras voice was dripping with sarcasm.
“Yes, but neither you nor any of the others are rangers, so I doubt you could keep quiet enough. And I’d rather stay unseen a little while longer, if its all the same to you” the ranger lieutenant shot back. Come on Teagan, she told herself a moment later, don’t let that bastard get under your skin. He is not worth it.
“Boss, can I have a word.” Higgins had started to make camp and helped the others securing their horses to the trees, when he suddenly stopped and stepped to Bailey.
“What is it?” she asked.
“We are not alone out here” Higgins said quietly. “I picked something up a while ago, but wasn’t sure. Now I am. There is someone out there in those trees, at least half a dozen, probably armed.”
Higgins didn’t make a fuss, just quietly letting Teagan know. The others didn’t notice anything. The last thing they needed was for whoever was surrounding them to notice they had been made.
“Any idea who they are?” Teagan asked.
“No, not yet. Could just be some random bandits, trying to make some quick money or even Khadorans for all I know” Higgins said.
“Let’s not draw any more attention to ourselves. Carry on as if nothing is out of the ordinary. Can you slip into the trees quietly?”
Higgins didn’t say anything for a moment before he nodded. “Yeah, I think so. They haven’t drawn too tight around us.”
Without another word, the ranger went back to his horse and pretended to unload it. After a moment, when Teagan looked over, Higgins was gone and she couldn’t see him anywhere.
“Lieutenant?” Raina Shaw had walked over. “Any idea where Rongar went?”
Teagan jerked her head around. Now that Shaw was saying it, she noticed that the big ogrun was nowhere to be seen. Usually he would have been the one she had to tell to keep quiet.
Kilbride and Bainbridge were with their horses and looking for some rations, but Rongar was missing.
“Crap, where did you see him last?”
“Talked to him, just as we arrived. Then I went to unload my horse and when I turned around, he was gone” the mechanik said. “Only his shield is still there.” She pointed towards the trees, where the big wooden shield was leaning against an oak.
A moment later she heard a branch snap with a crack. She ran over to her horse and grabbed her rifle and motioned for the others to do the same. Something wasn’t right. Even the stormsmith didn’t say anything, but grabbed his storm rod and took cover behind a tree.
“You see, we were just coming along this path…” Teagan suddenly heard the voice of the ogrun and a moment later, he was stepping into the little clearing where they had made their camp. But he wasn’t alone. A trollkin was with him.
She heard the long gunners rifles click behind her. Whatever happened, they had the trollkin in their sights.
“Oh, lieutenant, look who I’ve met” Rongar said without a care in the world. “An old friend of mine.” He gestured towards the trollkin, who had his weapon ready, but not aimed at any of them.
“And you are?” Teagan asked, without lowering her rifle. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Higgins stepping out from behind a tree, his rifle at the ready as well and trained on the trollkin.
“Tassar Dogalus” the trollkin said. “And there is no need for the rifle, we are all friends here.”
As he said that, more trollkin came out of the woods and Teagan realized that it was a full scout unit of the big cousins of Rongar.
“What are you doing in Ord? That is not part of your territory” she asked him.
“I could ask you the same question, Cygnaran” the trollkin said with a big smile.
“I take it you are not after us, or you wouldn’t reveal yourself so readily, would you?” Teagan had lowered her rifle and motioned for the others to do the same. The trollkin relaxed a bit as well. It wasn’t like Cygnar had its fair share of squabble with the kriels, but apparently in this instance they weren’t enemies.
“No” Tassar said. He looked around and took in the party, probably checking what he and his men had to fear from the Cygnarans. Apparently satisfied, he turned back to Teagan.
“We are after Khadorans. They had raided a few of our villages to the east and we are here for payback.”
“You don’t mind going through Ord territory and maybe even into Khador?”
“No, not at all. As you might have guessed, we are only the advance party. Our friends are a day behind us and they brought some full blood trolls with them. The Khadorans are getting quite the surprise.”
“Any chance you want to tell us, where you are going?” Teagan asked.
“Not really, no, unless you want to first?” Tassar replied.
Higgins had stepped from behind the tree and next to Bailey. She quickly looked over and decided.
“North of here, towards the Warrens, that is all I can tell you” she said. The trollkin nodded and said nothing for a moment.
“Its roughly the same direction we are going, but we expect to go further north, before all this is over. How about we don’t get in each others way, while we are here?” he said and extended one of his big hands.
“Lieutenant, can I have a word?” di Barra cut in, before Teagan could answer the troll. He was looking furious.
“Excuse me a moment” she said and stepped away. The trollkin just turned back to Rongar and they started talking again in a language none of the others understood.
“What?” she asked a little heatedly.
“Are you sure that is wise? Can you trust these trolls?” di Barra asked. “I am not sure this was what Artificer General Nemo had in mind, when he send you on this mission.”
“What do you want from me, stormsmith?” Teagan just about had it with his attitude. “All I am agreeing to is that we don’t get in each others way. They are obviously here for the Khadorans and by the looks of it not for the same ones we are.”
“What about the rest of them?”
“What about it? Their forces are a day behind us. And if they really have full blood trolls with them, they are not bringing such a force into enemy territory to go after a few rangers and company. They are not after us. And whatever they do to the Khadorans, I can live with that.”
“And what if they do get in our way?”
“Right now, I don’t care, Mr. di Barra” Teagan said. “We will deal with that if and when that problem arises. Rongar seems to know these guys and I trust him. In this matter anyway. He wouldn’t put the party in danger. At least not with something like this.”
“If you say so. But if this goes south, I am not sure, general Nemo will approve.”
“We will find that out too, won’t we?” With that Teagan turned around and went back to the trollkin.
“Everything square with the stormsmith?” Tassar asked and chuckled as he saw the surprised reaction. “I do know my way around Cygnar, lieutenant. And I wouldn’t be a very good scout if I didn’t recognize a stormsmith.”
“We are good, Tassar. Don’t get in our way, or you will regret it” Teagan said and shook his hand.
“Same here, lieutenant. We are not after you, or we wouldn’t have this conversation.” He shook her hand and turned around. A couple of moments later, he was gone between the trees.
“The rest is gone as well, boss” Higgins said at her shoulder. Teagan nodded. “Not to agree with the stormsmith, but do you really think this is wise?” he added in a low tone, so that nobody else heard it.
“Yes, I trust Rongar. I don’t think these trolls are meaning us any harm. Besides, why would they? When was the last time we had anything to do with trolls?”
“Well, there was this time in…” Higgins stopped with a wistful smile on his lips.
“Rongar?” Teagan called out to the ogrun. “How do you know these guys?”
“We fought together some time ago in the Glimmerwood. I had just lost my unit to some Cryxian nightmares when Tassar and his trolls showed up and saved my ass. We have been meeting here and there since then.”
“Can we trust him?” she asked. She didn’t want to have any surprises on this mission. Meeting the trollkin out here was surprise enough. She didn’t want to have to fight against them and the Khadorans at the same time. And there was to be some fighting expected at the facility.
“Yes, we can” Rongar said. “I trust these guys with my life. Have before. Their kriels come first, but if he says they are after Khadorans, then he is telling the truth. I wouldn’t want to fight them either. Not when they have full blood trolls following them.”
Teagan nodded. That was enough for her. She went back to the others.
To be continued …